Anybody who watched the 2012-13 Dallas Mavericks knows that this team needs good point guard play.
And if you were one of those people who hung in there with that squad, you deserve a back rub or something.
That year was rough in many ways. Dirk wasn’t himself, the nucleus from the 2011 title team was gone, and all year the Mavs seemed out of sorts. With a roster almost entirely full of players on one-year deals, it was an experiment gone wrong.
But as the saying goes, you can learn more from failure than success. And one of the primary lessons learned was that the Mavs need a competent point guard.
The 2012-13 playoff-less season was marred by less than adequate guard play. There was a lack of understanding of how to run the offense, how to get the whole team involved and maybe most importantly an inability to perform in crunch time.
According to NBA.com’s team clutch database, the 2012-13 Mavericks were 23-24 in games where the spread was five points or less in the last five minutes. That was 17th in the league.
This team needs a solid point guard play, and with all the turnover at the position this offseason, it’s about time to take an assessment of exactly what the Mavs are working with here.
Grading Last Year’s Performance
The 2013-14 Mavericks went 26-22 in games where the score was five points or less in the last five minutes of a game. An obvious improvement over 2012-13 simply in terms of record, but their plus minus in those situations showed even greater progress. The point differential of 1.3 was a 1.4-point improvement from two years ago.
But someone had to get Dirk the ball. Someone had to calmly run the offense under pressure. And that someone had to be a point guard.
Enter Jose Calderon.
The veteran fit the bill in crunch time, and the team owes a lot of their improvement to Calderon’s addition.
Clutch situations weren’t the only spots where Calderon made a difference. Their point differential increased by three points per game, and their assisted field-goal percentage shot up to fourth best in the league.
Of course, Calderon isn’t solely responsible for this. The entire team went through an extreme makeover last season, it wasn’t just the point guard that changed. But these are areas where Calderon can make a big impact. Where a guy with his skills is very valuable.
All that being said, the Mavs were limited at the position last season. The two main guys were Calderon and Devin Harris, though Harris missed 42 games. So essentially, the main guy was Calderon.
And anybody who watched him play knew the Spaniard had gaping holes in his game.
In addition to being a notoriously bad defender, the guy had next to no ability to finish at the rim. He made just 46 shots from five feet and closer last season in 2,468 minutes played last season.
For some perspective, Nate Robinson is generously listed at 5’9” and only played in 44 games last season yet he made 66 shots from that same distance.
The position improved dramatically from 2012-13, but still had plenty of weak spots. It was good, but definitely not great.
2013-14 Point Guards: B
What to Expect This Season
Half the roster has changed this offseason, but perhaps no one position has undergone more of a radical shift than the point guard spot. Two of Dallas’ top guys in Calderon and Shane Larkin were traded to the Knicks as part of the package that brought Tyson Chandler to the Mavs.
And along with Tyson Chandler came Raymond Felton. Dallas also signed Jameer Nelson, and re-signed Devin Harris. Those three will be the point guards for this season.
Gone is Calderon’s steady hand, and in come three relative question marks.
As previously stated, Harris missed 42 games due to various injuries last season and he also hasn’t played more than 70 games since the 2010-11 season. He brought energy and some offensive punch when he played, but he also only shot 37.8 percent from the field last season. He was good, but often inconsistent with his production.
Speaking of inconsistency, Raymond Felton will compete for starters minutes. He went from key player on a 54-win Knicks team to an afterthought in just a year. It’s anybody’s guess as to which Felton the Mavs get, let’s just hope it’s an in shape one.
Finally, Jameer Nelson might be the closest thing to consistent the Mavs have at the position. His shooting numbers are in decline, but he’s still a good passer and a smart player. His best years are behind him, but he still has a lot to give.
Obviously, this group does not have a Jose Calderon. There is a striking lack of the sharp-shooting and sure-handed point guard who fixed so many of Dallas’s ills last season.
So the plan of attack has to change, but just a bit.
Even though Dallas is without a Calderon-type point guard, the new guys bring other things to the table. Namely, they’re more athletic.
Now nobody is calling these guys crazy athletes, but athleticism was something the position was sorely lacking last season. Devin Harris brings the speed, while Felton and Nelson are far from slow. All three are quick, and they make their money by getting into the teeth of the defense.
And with essentially three starting point guards, we might see a bit more pace-pushing. ESPN Dallas’ Tim McMahon recently wrote about how the roster seems to be moving in that direction, and the point guards are certainly equipped for that style.
As far as missing a steady hand, the Mavs should be just fine there too. Harris, Nelson and Felton have all been starters. They all know what they’re doing. And Nelson specifically has consistently run a team for all 10 of his NBA seasons.
To be clear, this is a team and a position in transition. Things are going to be different this year. Hopefully better, but nonetheless different.
Where Calderon was a limited player, the new trio is versatile. Where there was mostly just one point guard last season, now there’s three.
In football there’s a saying, "if you have two quarterbacks, you have none." There’s no saying about three point guards in basketball, but either head coach Rick Carlisle will have his hands full or he will have three weapons to work with.
Based on his track record, it seems Carlisle should be happy this year. The Mavs can now play different styles, play mismatches and be less rigid in their lineups thanks largely to their flexibility at the point.
Change can be good. The Mavs have been proponents of that over the years, and this overhaul certainly puts that logic to the test. But the point guard position should improve with its new look. The front office did a nice job of keeping the position’s basketball IQ high while also upgrading its athleticism and versatility.
Now it’s time to start putting all the pieces together.